Zoning FAQ 1

Do zoning variances run with the land so that a subsequent owner may make use of the variance? Similarly, may a new owner of property continue to use the property authorized by a special exception or conditional use permit?

The answer is clearly yes for variances. Once a variance is granted, it is permanently attached to the property. A new owner of the property may make use of a variance that was granted to the previous owner if all of the conditions that are attached to the variance are met. See Goldberg v. City of Milwaukee Board of Zoning Appeal, 115 Wis.2d 517, 340 N.W.2d 558 (Ct. App. 1983).

Similarly, a conditional use or special exception permit generally transfers to the purchaser of a property subject to such a permit. However, some communities impose periodic reviews on conditional use or special exception permits and/or issue such permits for specific time periods (e.g., one year). The legality of these limitations has not been clearly established in Wisconsin but some cases have considered such permits without expressing or noting any disapproval of the mechanism and our courts have concluded that a conditional use permit is not property. Thus, the transferability of a conditional use or special exception permit in Wisconsin to a subsequent owner may depend on any limitations in the permit imposed by the issuing municipality.